ROZSYPNE, Ukraine — International investigators got their first look Thursday at the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, reaching the site two weeks after a missile downed the plane. Fighting between Ukrainian troops and separatist rebels raged around them, but the investigators called their brief inspection visit a success.
Clashes along routes to the wreckage site had kept the delegation from reaching the area to find and retrieve bodies that have been lying in open fields where midsummer temperatures have hovered around 90 degrees for the past several weeks.
But the investigators were allowed early Thursday afternoon through a checkpoint leading to the crash site at the village of Rozsypne by a rifle-toting militiaman who then fired a warning shot to prevent reporters from accompanying the convoy.
The militiaman, who gave his name only as Sergei, said there was still fighting in Rozsypne as the Ukrainian army continues an offensive to take back territory from the rebels.
The team of police and forensic experts from the Netherlands and Australia spent about an hour inspecting the scene before returning to their base in the rebel-held city of Donetsk.
Australian Federal Police Commander Brian McDonald said the visit was only a preliminary survey ahead of more comprehensive recovery work of bodies and victims’ personal belongings.
“We had a quick inspection of the site. Today was more about an assessment of the site than it was of a search,” McDonald said.
As many as 80 bodies are still at the site, said Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. from Ukraine.
Ukrainian national security spokesman Andriy Lysenko said a “day of quiet” was declared Thursday in response to a call for a cease-fire from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
But clashes were still taking place Thursday in the immediate vicinity of where the Boeing 777 came down.
Thursday’s drive took the convoy of four investigators and eight Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe officials from Donetsk through the town of Debaltseve, which was retaken earlier this week by the government, and later back into rebel territory.
Alexander Hug, deputy head of the organization’s mission to Ukraine, provided no details on what was seen during the visit but called it a success because officials “managed to access the site without any incident.”
A delegation from Russia’s state aviation body said Thursday that it also hoped to visit the site, an agency spokesman said.
Sergei Izvolsky said a delegation of Russian specialists from Rosaviatsiya was due in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, on Thursday to work with Australian and Dutch investigators and examine the wreckage of the plane. Representatives of the Dutch and Ukrainian commissions would not comment on the arrival of Russian officials.
The European Union and the United States have formed a united front in accusing Russia of fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine by supplying weapons to rebels.
In Brussels, the EU formally adopted economic sanctions announced earlier this week to pressure Russia to help bring about a peaceful solution to the Ukraine crisis. The measures will go into effect today.
Approved in principle by the EU’s 28 member nations on Tuesday, the sanctions will restrict Russia’s access to European capital markets, slap an embargo on the import and export of arms with Russia, and ban the sale of dual-use goods and technology that might be of value to the Russian military. They will also halt the sale to Russia of equipment or technology destined for deep-water or Arctic oil drilling and exploration, as well as drilling for shale oil.
In Donetsk on Thursday, the rebel’s acting political leader, Vladimir Antyufeyev, denied that the separatist movement was being assisted by Moscow.
“Neither I nor [rebel military commander Igor Girkin] knows or has met anybody from the Russian presidential administration,” said Antyufeyev, a Russian national.
Ukraine’s parliament, meanwhile, voted Thursday not to accept the resignation of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
Yatsenyuk said last week that he was resigning after two parties left the coalition supporting him and parliament balked at passing laws he said were essential to fund the country’s war against the pro-Russia separatists.
While the confidence vote ensures some continuity in the country’s turbulent political system, President Petro Poroshenko has said he wants new parliamentary elections held soon.
The current legislature is a leftover of the period of rule of former President Viktor Yanukovych, who was overthrown in February. Before Yanukovych’s ouster, parliament was dominated by his Party of Regions, which has since lost many of its members to defection.
Information for this article was contributed by David McHugh, Peter Leonard, John-Thor Dahlburg and Yuras Karmanau of The Associated Press.
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